Friday, June 20, 2014

Playlist: Soul Covers Rock

As readers of this blog know, I love vintage rock and classic soul.  I also think that performing original material is an overrated fetish.  A good song is something that ought to be cherished, shared, and played around with.  Just because someone recorded it first shouldn't mean that the song gets frozen in the vinyl amber of the original record, never to be altered again.  A great illustration of how songs can be reinterpreted in thrilling ways comes from covers that soul artists did of rock songs back in the 1960s.  Back then a popular song would be covered by lots of different people, often with great results.  Here are a few of my favorite covers in the specific souls covers of rock genre.

Wilson Pickett, "Hey Jude"
Let's start with Wilson Pickett, perhaps the most muscular soul singer that ever walked the planet earth this side of Levi Stubbs.  According to the story, he was cutting a session in Muscle Shoals, and sessions musician (and later Allman Brothers Band founder) Duane Allman suggested they do a version of "Hey Jude."  It was an audacious move that paid off with a supremely funky groove and some great singing from Pickett, especially when he screams as the band goes into the long "na na na na na" fadeout.  Allman's guitar solo is also just absolutely killer.

Aretha Franklin, "The Weight"
Aretha Franklin went from peak to peak in the late 60s and early 70s, including on this cover of the Band.  The original combined the voices of Rick Danko, Levon Helm, and Richard Manuel, but Lady Soul's pipes can carry the whole darn thing by themselves.  (Since it's a collaboration rather than a cover I couldn't include the Staples Singers doing this song with The Band on the formal list.  Nevertheless, Mavis Staples' singing here is some of her best.)

Otis Redding, "Satisfaction"
I've heard Keith Richards say that when he wrote "Satisfaction" he envisioned it as a soul song, with the loud, fuzzy guitar taking the place of a horn section.  Otis Redding obliged Keef by dropping this killer cover, complete with horns.  Instead of Jagger's punky sneer, Otis gives the song some of his patented sweat, making the frustration of the singer much more palpable.

Stevie Wonder, "We Can Work It Out"
Might as well end with where we started, with a Beatles cover.  "We Can Work It Out" has the distinction of being both one of my favorite Beatles' songs and one of my favorite Stevie Wonder songs.  Wonder gives the song an absolutely killer groove and some great "hey!"s to punctuate the song, not to mention a soaring harmonica solo.  Like all great covers it stays true to the song while still managing to turn it into something new, and I would argue, better.


An Idiot said...

I love the classic soul. The only song I'm familiar with on this list is Otis Redding's cover of "Satisfaction," which is brilliant.

I was led here through Chauncey Devega's WARN. I hope to keep visiting. Good writing.

Anonymous said...

Mavis Staples shares her memories of singing with The Band:

I also discovered this blog through Chauncey's blog.

Anonymous said...

Songwriters and performers were once different people. Very few "singer-songwriters." Better singing and better songs, too.

In the early 20th century, the song was the thing. There could be thousands of "cover" recordings and performances. Sheet music was the big seller, so amateurs could participate on piano and ukulele.

Brian I said...

More than one scholar of southern rock has claimed that Duane's solo on Pickett's "Hey Jude" is the birthplace of southern rock. Also, I find it interesting that Duane suggested Pickett cover that song because he (Duane) couldn't read music. "Hey Jude" had just come out, and he had already mastered the song by playing the record over and over again. Duane wanted to play a song that the other musicians wouldn't have to teach him!

Brian I said...

Guitar nerd alert: I love the fact that Duane plays a Stratocaster on Pickett's "Hey Jude" cover. The Strat's single-coil pickups are distinctive, very different from his usual Gibson Les Paul/SG humbucker sound. But it works perfectly in this song.